Fear nuclear war, not climate change

Weeks before thermobaric missiles rained down on Ukraine, the chattering classes at the World Economic Forum declared “climate action failure” the biggest global risk for the coming decade. On the eve of the war, US climate ambassador John Kerry worried about the “massive emissions impact” of the Russian invasion and feared that the world might forget the risks of climate change if fighting broke out. Amid the conflict and the many other challenges the world is currently facing, such as inflation and food price increases, the global elite has an unhealthy obsession with climate change.

This fixation had three important consequences. First, it has distracted the western world from real geopolitical threats. Russia’s invasion should be a wake-up call that war still poses a serious threat that demands the attention of democratic nations. But a month after the start of the war in Ukraine, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, whose main purpose is to ensure world peace focused instead on the “climate catastrophe” and warned that dependence on fossil fuels will bring “mutually assured destruction”. His comments come at a time when nuclear weapons pose the greatest risk of literally mutually assured destruction in half a century.

Second, the narrow focus on immediate climate goals undermines future prosperity. The world currently spends more than half a trillion dollars a year in private and public funds on climate action, while the governments of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries spend on innovations that underpin growth in areas such as healthcare, space and defense, Agriculture and science have declined as a percentage of gross domestic product in recent decades.

Educational performance in developed countries is stagnating or declining, and real income growth in OECD countries has come to a near standstill this century. In contrast, in China, where innovation-related spending has risen 50% from 2000 levels and education is improving rapidly, median earnings have quintupled since the early 21st century.

Third, in the world’s poorest countries, the international community’s focus on building solar panels coexists with woeful underinvestment in solving massive existing problems. Infectious diseases like tuberculosis and malaria kill millions; Malnutrition affects almost a billion people; More than three billion do not have access to reliable energy.

These and other problems plaguing developing countries are solvable, but financed far less by wealthy countries than climate change. Giving developing countries affordable access to always-available energy, which often requires fossil fuels, is key to lifting most of the world out of poverty. But before invading Ukraine, developed countries struggled to make fossil fuels more expensive and less accessible to the world’s poor.

What underpins this climate fixation? The false and irresponsible notion that global warming poses an imminent existential risk to the world. Climate change is real and man-made; I have no doubt about that. But the best economic estimates by the Obama and Biden administrations, and those of the only climate economist to ever win the Nobel Prize in Economics, all show that the aggregate impact of unchecked climate change — not just on the economy, but overall — by the end of the century would correspond to an annual decline in global GDP of less than 4%.

The UN estimates that by 2100 the average person will be 450% as rich as they are today. If climate change continues unabated, the average person will be “only” 434% as rich – far from catastrophic.

A world scared of sanity doesn’t make wise decisions – so it should come as no surprise that it has failed to curb climate change. Globally, last year saw its highest ever CO2 emissions despite spending $5 trillion on climate action over the past decade. The UN conceded in 2019 that despite the global Paris Agreement, there had been “no real change in the global emissions trajectory over the last decade”.

The European Union has tried to switch to renewable energy but still gets more than 70% of its energy from fossil fuels. Much of the rest is generated by burning wood chips from trees felled in America and transported on diesel ships. Sun and wind produce only 3% of the European Union’s energy and the technology is unreliable and often requires gas support when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. Europe’s refusal to embrace shale gas – which can be found across the continent but remains unexploited – has left it at the mercy of Russian gas. The past two months have shown how dangerous that is.

Well-meaning politicians around the world have proposed measures to achieve net-zero emissions in the coming decades. McKinsey says policies will cost $9.2 trillion each year to reach net zero by 2050. This corresponds to half of global tax revenue. Emerging countries like India or Africa, whose emissions will skyrocket as their populations and economies grow, are unlikely to take such costly measures. Net Zero is also likely to fail in developed countries, where its high cost will erode prosperity and hence political support. According to the McKinsey study, reaching net zero would cost each American family $19,300 a year.

To respond effectively to climate change, the world must spend more on green energy innovation and develop renewable energy that is reliable and cost-effective. To address their immediate energy problems, Europe and America must embrace fracking — despite Russian-funded propaganda discrediting it — and help the rest of the world get access to the oil and gas it needs. There are many serious threats in the world today, but most will not get the attention they deserve until the political classes drop their hype about climate change and treat it for what it actually is – just one of many problems that need to be solved 21st century.

Mr. Lomborg is President of the Copenhagen Consensus and a Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. His latest book is False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet.

Wonderland: Almost the entire world is committed to repelling Vladimir Putin’s invasion in some kind of impromptu, crowd-funded alternative to the Armageddon tripwire. Images: AP/AFP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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Ethan Gach

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